by Sender Garlin
INCLUDING THE FULL TEXT OF HIS INTERVIEW WITH KARL MARX IN 1880
Occasional Paper No. 20 (1976)
OCCASIONAL PAPERS SERIES NUMBER TWENTY
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OF ALBERTA LIBRARY
John Swinton: American Radical l
Appendix A: John Swinton 's Interview with Karl Marx 40
Appendix B: Karl Marx's Comment on the Translating
of Das Kapital 43
Selected Bibliography 45
The world owes more, far more to John Swinton than
it knows or perhaps ever can know. He was one of
the real heroes of American history. He lived and
labored wholly for his fellow-men. He struggled
bravely with all the adverse fates and forces that
others might be spared the pains and privations
that fell to his lot and have life richer and more
abundant. Aye, he fought as heroically and un-
selfishly for humanity as any man that ever won
the crown of martyrdom .
--Eugene Victor Debs
The America of today needs to be reminded of men like John
Swinton, a fighter in labor’s cause as writer, editor, orator and
Shortly after his death seventy-five years ago, the New York
Times reported that he had been “the champion of the workingmen with
voice and pen" and cited the many crusades he had led. Referring to
the labor publication he founded and edited, John Swinton 's Paper , the
Times noted that "he had been on the side' - of the masses, but his
paper died for want of support by them." And it added, in a spirit of
self-congratulation, that "the very class of people that Swinton tried
to benefit neglected and frequently condemned him."
Evidently the Times sought to attribute its own duality to
Swinton and thus devaluate his accomplishments in the field of labor.
For while it is well known that Swinton had taken a leading part in
labor's battles for many decades, it was equally true that he had been
a prominent and highly-regarded journalist, holding responsible posts
on both the 'limes and the New York Sun.
In a tribute in the literary section of the Times shortly
after Swinton s death, T. C. Evans termed him "aggressive", and "dis-
putatious." He added, however, that Swinton "lived up to high pro-
fessional standards and left a name worthy of respectful and admiring
remembrance . "
John Swinton was born on December 12, 1829, in Salton, near
Edinburgh, Scotland. When he was 14 years old his parents moved to
Canada, settling in Montreal. Shortly thereafter he began work as a
printer's apprentice on the Montreal Witness , later becoming a journey-
man printer, an occupation he followed until he became a newspaperman.
After the family had moved to New York City, Swinton entered Williston
Seminary in Northampton, Massachusetts. (When he had mastered the
printing trade, he studied both law and medicine briefly.)
In the course of a long career, Swinton worked under three
famous editors: Charles A. Dana, Horace Greeley, and Henry J. Raymond.
He was associated with major New York newspapers for nearly a half
century. He worked for the Times from 1860 to 1870. From 1875 to
1883, and again from 1892 to 1897, Swinton was on the editorial staff
of the Sun . He also contributed to the New York Tribune , the New York
World , the Brooklyn Eagle , the Irish World and the Scotsman .
Swinton lost his eyesight in 1889, but continued his work as
journalist, teacher and writer until his death in Brooklyn Heights on
December 15, 1901. He had been ill only 10 days. His wife, the
daughter of Professor Orson Squire Fowler, a well-known phrenologist,
survived him. There were no children. His death was noted not only
- 2 -
by the Times . the Sun , and the Tribune , but also by a number of Social-
ist and trade union journals.
In a commemorative article that appeared on December 28,
1901, Harper's Weekly declared that "the life work of this stalwart,
bitter champion of the laborer reads like a romance. It was one con-
tinuous battle for the rights of the lowly and oppressed .. .a hater of
sham, he fought bitterly, and with no hope of reward "
As a journeyman printer, Swinton traveled extensively in the
South and the West. In 1856 he went to Kansas to take part in the
free-soil movement, but he arrived too late to join John Brown in the
struggle. He remained, however, to become manager of the Lawrence .
(Kansas) Republican .
On his return to New York, a casual contribution on medicine
earned him a place on the Times . He became chief editorial writer of
the paper in 1860. In 1875 Swinton joined Charles A. Dana's Sun , where
he remained for eight years, becoming the chief of the editorial staff
of that newspaper.
Like the friend he so much admired — Walt Whitman — Swinton
had for years stood at his case ten hours a day, setting type for news
dispatches and editorials. As a journeyman printer (like Mark Twain
and William Dean Howells), he saw much of the country, and what he saw
of chattel slavery, child labor, the sweatshops in the big cities of
the land stirred him to profound anger.
The United States, when Swinton was in his twenties, was
approaching the critical point in its history that culminated in the
Civil War. In South Carolina he had worked as a compositor in the
state printing office. Here he risked his life teaching Blacks to read
and write. The gatherings took place in an underground vault.
Through the years, Swinton reacted with indignation to the
misery wrought by half a dozen crises: in 1854, 1857, 1860, 1873,
1885 and 1894. After the Civil War had formally destroyed slavery,
he perceived that "free men," Black and white working people, were
still unfree. And on the 22nd anniversary of the death of John Brown
Swinton told an audience in the old Turn Hall in New York what the man
from North Elba in the Adirondacks had meant to him:
It needs that we recall the stupendous strength
of the old Slavery establishment — its bulwarks
of constitutionalism, legality, politics, mercan-
tilism, capitalism — and ecclesiasticism; it
needs that we recall the power of the interests
and passions that environed it, and the sub-
serviency or timidity of even its opponents, with
few exceptions, before we can comprehend the in-
fluence of the man ...who struck through them all,
and struck to the heart.
It was a new policy that John Brown brought into
play against American slavery — the policy of
meeting it upon its own terms, and its own field,
confronting with force a system based upon force,
and establishing human rights by the weapons that
upheld public wrongs.
In place of the old way of acquiescing in slavery,
or compromising with it, or arguing over it, or
resisting its extension, he adopted the way of
assailing it by the only means that gave any hope
of destroying it. John Brown's way was justified
by the event — justified amid flame and smoke by
Abraham Lincoln's proclamation of abolition.
* ★ ★ * ★
It was at about this time that a writer for the Brooklyn
Daily Union described the journalist's "large framed full-faced
healthy complexion, big brown eyes, a sandy gray moustache, bald, save
a rim of gray on the outlying county of an immense cranium; a man who
gives expression with rapidity of utterance and eloquence, now and
then illuminating his points with a story, an allusion to history, or
some passage in the classics."
In a contemporary biography of Swinton, a friend and
fellow-printer, Robert Waters, described him as a man "above the middle
height, long-haired, broad-browed, with a dark, keen piercing eye,
vehement in his denunciation of slavery and fearless in his exposition
of daring views and noble aspirations.” Waters termed him "a zealous
disciple of the abolitionists Phillips, Parker, and Garrison... a great
reader of anti-slavery papers and magazines, he was even then noted
among his acquaintances for the impetuous ardor with which he assailed
slavery. He was in full sympathy with the anti-slavery movement of
that time, while most of his comrades sneered at the Negroes and made
vulgar jokes about them. "
His talk. Waters (a fellow-Scotsman and author of a book on
William Cobbett) recalled, "stirred me more than any man I had so far
known... He was an ardent admirer of Carlyle, Emerson, Montaigne, and
Ruskin . " Waters recounts that he left for Europe in 1861 and didn t
see Swinton again for seven years. "When I returned," he wrote, "I
found Swinton on of the 'leader writers' for the Times , and well known
in the literary and political world. He had acquired such a command
- 5 -
of language, such a wealth of imagery, and such knowledge of men and
things, present and past, literary, political and scientific, that I
thought him by far the best informed and the most brilliant talker I
had ever known."
Discussing Waters' book on Swinton in its issue of December
1902, the International Socialist Review noted;
Among the names of those who have made smooth the
way for the Socialist movement in America there
are few more prominent than that of John Swinton.
A man of brilliant intellect, a personal friend of
Karl Marx, an able linguist, a fighter in the
actual battle of labor, and one of the most prom-
inent journalists of the United States, his was
preeminently a life of action and of doing. This
life is told by a... friend who makes the man live
Some years later, Eugene V. Debs wrote that "in personal
appearance Swinton was tall, well-proportioned and courtly in manner,
and one recognized in him at a glance a distinguished personage." His
features, the famous Socialist and trade union leader reported, were
"strikingly clear-cut, his eyes were keen and piercing, though kindly,
his hair snow-white, as were also his moustache and eyebrows, which
set off his fine, smooth brow and pallid complexion to perfection."
* * * * *
In his history of the New York Times , Meyer Berger reports
that when the paper was young it gave more space to news about science
than any other New York newspaper. "John Swinton, a Times editorial
writer, handled most of it." To cite one example; Swinton wrote, and
- 6 -
the Times published, three to four columns a day on the meeting of the
American Scientists Association in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1860,
"and he contributed editorials on science on the side."
When Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Specie^ was reprinted
by D. Appleton & Co. in New York in March of 1860, the Times ran a 3*5-
column story on the work of the great scientist. This report has gen-
erally been attributed to Swinton.
"Mr. Darwin, " the article began, "as the fruit of a quarter-
century of patient observation and experiment, throws out, in a book
whose title at least by this time has become familiar to the reading
public, a series of arguments and inferences so revolutionary as, if
established, to necessitate a radical reconstruction of the fundamental
doctrines of natural history."
The same article, according to the Times historian, recog-
nized the potential influence of On the Origin of Species , saying: "It
is clear that here is one of the most important contributions ever
made to philosophic science; and it is behooving on the scientists, in
the light of accumulation of evidence which the author has summoned in
support of his theory, to reconsider the grounds on which their present
doctrine of the origin of the species is based."
Swin ton's many-sided interests are also touched upon by
• v . r >* ; 7 . . ; . • . . / . . * : .'L i i a
Frank M. O'Brien, chronicler of another New York newspaper on which he
played a major role.
• v r . * . r 0 ' ' * v - n • , \ | 4 V 1 • # ♦ 9 * i * I J ' ' • J £ l f; ►
In The Story of the Sun (1883-1928) , O’Brien writes that
"John Swinton was among the editorial writers who contributed most to
- 7 -
Dana's success ...Swinton, whose specialty was Central American
affairs and paragraphing, was a Socialist outside the Sun office. He
delighted to denounce the capitalistic Sun ' in a speech at night and
tell Mr. Dana l the paper s editor] about it the next morning."
Raymo nd and the New York Press . August Maverick
described John Swinton as "a fluent and graceful writer." Swinton, he
wrote, was a man of "great natural shrewdness and ready wit [who]
brought to the profession of journalism a keen and just sense of its
requirements. In a greater degree than almost any other member of his
profession in this country, he possesses the faculty of pointing a
paragraph in such a manner that it becomes as effective as the labored
essay of the didactic writer."
* * * * *
Swinton was an activist who did not confine his political
interests to the editorial sanctum. On September 6, 1883, he appeared
before the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Education, which was
holding sessions in New York City. His testimony was prompted by the
action of Senator Henry W. Blair, a New Hampshire Republican and chair-
man of the committee, who proposed that the panel travel to various
cities to take testimony on issues involving labor and capital.
The New York Times of September 7, 1883 reported the event
in that intimate, quaint journalistic style now out of fashion:
John Swinton 's gold-rimmed eye glasses twitched
nervously on his nose yesterday morning as he
smilingly admitted to Senator Blair, of the Senate
- 8 -
Committee on Education and Labor, that he was an
editor. He said that he had been connected with
the press since he was 12 years of age. As a
newspaperman he had become acquainted with all
sorts of questions relating to all sorts of men.
He had given the subject of labor much attention
and thought, and he had in mind certain measures
which, if enacted into laws by Congress, would, he
believed, result to the great benefit of the
common people .
These measures, reported the Times correspondent, included:
the revival of the graduated income tax; the establishment of national
boards of health, education and public works; formation of a bureau to
gather statistics on the eight-hour question and on working women and
children; establishment of postal banks; the enactment of laws to
prevent the holding of large tracts of land in this country by indivi-
duals or corporations and, finally, public ownership of the railroads,
telegraph, coal, iron and gold mines, as well as oil wells.
On one occasion, presiding at a Cooper Union meeting called
to protest a New York State Court of Appeals decision nullifying the
prevailing wage rate, Swinton told the assemblage, "There have been
more born criminals among the men of the bench than among the pirates
that ever sailed the high seas."
The reporter for the New York Times wrote that "this sally
was greeted with laughter and applause.
"The bench," Swinton went on, "has always been ready to sell
out liberty. It supported a king in this country until the revolu-
tionists put the bench where it came from."
Swinton 1 s partisanship on the side of labor was no secret to
his journalistic colleagues, but it was the Tompkins Square unemployed
demonstration in 1874 which had first brought him into full public
prominence in that role. The panic of 1873 had strangled industry and
thousands of New York workers were hurled into unemployemfent, their
Appearing before the New York State Legislature on March 25
of that year, Swinton assailed what he termed the "Tompkins Square out-
rage" and called upon the lawmakers to investigate the situation in
New York City. He told the legislators:
In December and January the unemployed and suffer-
ing people began to feel that the municipal author-
ities, and more prosperous classes, must — in
some way — be made aware of their actual condition,
which had been so strangely misrepresented by more
than one of the newspapers. There followed a de-
cision to hold a mass demonstration at Tompkins
Square, the mayor himself promising to address
But now, about ten o’clock, when they were standing
around peaceably, waiting for the mayor, platoons
of police suddenly appeared, deployed into the
square, rushed without warning whatever on the
helpless and unarmed multitudes, violently assailed
them with their clubs, struck at heads right and
left, wounded many, dragged off some thirty or
forty who were flung into station-houses not un-
like the Black Hole of Calcutta.
Gentlemen, is not this a horrible spectacle in a
civilized country and city? Do you know of any-
thing like it in the modern experience of any
other Christian region of the world?
The editorial funks and intellectual policemen
have roused prejudices against these their vic-
tims by saying they were Communists, in league
with the impending earthquake. Gentlemen, be not
alarmed by mysterious words, and let not the
epithet "Communist" stir up the same sort of
- 10 -
hydrophobia that the epithet "Abolitionist once
did. Suppose the ideas of these people were the
sort which editors and policemen call "Communistic;
does anyone suppose the thing can be scribbled out
of their hearts or clubbed out of their heads?
The authorities were not quelling a riot, for there
was no riot, and not a man had raised a finger
when the police unexpectedly sprang to the assault.
They were not dispersing a mob, for this was not a
mob, but a peaceable gathering under regular
authority, few among them being aware that the
papers of that morning had published a hastily-
issued prohibitory order. Only two or three of
the workingmen offered even the slightest resis-
tance to the onslaught, though it must have been
hard for some of them, under the circumstances, to
refrain from defending their lives. None of the
victims were actually clubbed or trampled to death,
but many were shockingly wounded. No charges
could be maintained against the parties arrested,
and all of them, with one exception, were released
after various periods of unjustifiable incarceration.
At the conclusion of his indictment against the New York
City authorities and their police, Swinton proposed that the Police
Board which perpetrated these cruel, flagrant and horrible outrages
against the unemployed and suffering workmen of New York" 'be abolished?
that instead, a new board be created, to be elected by popular suffrage.
During major strikes on the railroads and in other industries
in the seventies, Swinton again addressed a huge demonstration in
Tompkins Square. A contemporary account says that it was a perilous
time for oratory, his friends firmly believing that he was endangering
his life and urged him to keep away from the meeting. Nonetheless, he
appeared and began his address with these words: "With 8,000 rifles
and 1,200 clubs drawn upon me — " This time there was no interference
by the police.
- 11 -
In the fall of that year Swinton ran for mayor of New York
on the Industrial Party ticket. Three years late, as the candidate of
the Progressive Labor Party for state senator, he waged a vigorous
Swinton was not alone in his denunciation of contemporary
outrages. Two other former printers, William Dean Howells and Mark
Twain, expressed themselves emphatically on the issues of the day.
Howells, who in 1871 assumed the editorship of the Atlantic Monthly —
then the most influential literary journal in America — published ar-
tides on the causes of the depression, civil service reform, immigra-
tion, feminism and the rights of women.
"An article on 'Children's Labor,'" writes Robert Lee Hough
in The Quiet Rebel , "is particularly arresting in its description of
the evils of child labor...."
Later, in December, 1880, Howells accepted for publication
"The Story of a Great Monopoly," Henry Demarest Lloyd's expose of the
ruthless practices of the Standard Oil Company, and a forerunner of
the muckraking articles by Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker, Lincoln
Steffens and John Reed.
Some time afterward, Howells wrote Mark Twain that labor was
at last educating itself, that workers would begin to win strikes soon,
and that the public was being betrayed by the press. Commenting on
two recent articles by the celebrated author, one of them on the
Knights of Labor, Howells had written on April 5, 1888:
- 12 -
My dear Clemens :
I have read your two essays with thrills almost
amounting to yells of satisfaction. It is about
, the best thing yet said on the subject; but it is
strange that you can't get a single newspaper to
face the facts of the situation. Here the fools
are now all shouting because the Knights of Labor
have revenged themselves on the Engineers, and the
C. B. and Q. strike is a failure. No one notices
how labor has educated itself; no one perceives that
next time there won't be any revenge or any failure'.
If ever a public was betrayed by its press, it’s
ours. No man could safely make himself heard in
behalf of the strikers any more than for the
anarchists . "
The "anarchists" were the Haymarket martyrs. (As a result
of their struggle for the eight-hour day, seven had been convicted;
two were given long prison sentences, one committed suicide, and four
were hanged on November 11, 1887.) ... In a letter to his sister Howells
had characterized the trial "as an atrocious piece of frenzy and cru-
elty, for which we must stand ashamed forever before history." Earlier
in the same letter he said: "Elinor (Mrs. Howells] and I both no long-
er care for the world's life and would like to be settled down very
humbly and simply, where we could be socially identified with the prin-
ciples of progress and sympathy for the struggling masses.
Howells, who was one of America's leading literary figures,
"was deeply stirred by the case," writes Alan Calmer in his Labor Agi-
tator: The Story of Albert R. Parsons . "Although he feared his repu-
tation and livelihood would be jeopardized, he interceded in their
The critical sentiments expressed by Howells found an echo
from time to time, even in academic circles. Recalling that period in
his autobiography, Professor Richard T. Ely of the University of Wis-
consin, and one of the first labor economists in the United States,
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century the
American people witnessed a crisis in the labor
movement. It was marked by a deep stirring of the
masses not a local stirring, not merely a na-
tional stirring, but an international, world-wide
stirring of the masses. The manner of producing
material goods was examined critically and pro-
nounced faulty. The distribution of these goods
among the various members of the social organism
was also critically examined and pronounced ini-
quitous. Proposals were made for new modes of
production and distribution of economic goods.
The masses desired changes not merely in surface
phenomena, but in the very foundation of the
* * * * *
A major event in Swin ton's life, and one to which he would
make frequent reference, was his meeting with Karl Marx in August,
1880 / at the seaside resort of Ramsgate, in England. The interview
appeared on page 1 of the New York Sun on September 6, 1880, and was
later published in "Joh Swinton's Travels: Current Views and Notes of
Forty Days in France and England."
Swinton's impressions of the founder of scientific Socialism
— "one of the most remarkable men of the day" — are fascinating for
the intimate glimpses one gets of Marx and his immediate family.*
"A man without desire for fame, caring nothing for the
fanfaronade of life or the pretense of power; without haste and without
* For full text of this interview see Appendix •
rest, a man of strong, broad elevated mind, full of far-reaching pro
jects , logical methods and practical aims, he has stood and yet stands
behind more of the earthquakes which have convulsed nations and destroy-
ed thrones, and do now menace and appall crowned heads and established
frauds, than any other man in Europe, not excepting Joseph Mazzini
That Swinton could conceive the impact of Marx's philosophy
on the world, and view the man and his work with exaltation, is a
tribute not only to his intellectual capacities, but to his scale of
Swinton' s friend and biographer, Robert Waters, reports a
conversation with Swinton about Marx, and quotes him as saying: "I
met him in London, and I consider him one of the noblest and most logi-
cal thinkers I ever knew. ... When I became an editor and saw how for-
tunes were made by a turn of the hand, by secret combinations of
capitalists, and how this tended to impoverish the community, I began
to see that the whole thing was wrong and that the entire system ought
to be changed."
Swinton went on to say, according to Waters: "I made the
acquaintance of Wendell Phillips and found that he, too, had come to
similar conclusions. He believed that the capitalist system was stead-
ily undermining the world and bringing his countrymen into a condi-
tion quite as wretched as that of the Negro slaves; and he vehemently
Not long after his meeting with Marx in England, Swinton
received from him a copy of the French edition of Capital and a letter,
dated November 4, 1880, thanking him "for your friendly article in the
Sun," a reference to the Ramsgate interview. (The letter was written
After reporting that "political interest centers here at
present on the Irish 'Land Question'," Marx told Swinton of the perse-
cutions resulting from the Bismarckian Anti-Socialist law. "Liebknecht
has to enter prison for six months," Marx wrote, adding: "The Anti-
Socialist Law having failed to overthrow or even to weaken the German
Social-Democratic organization, Bismarck [the German chancellor]
clings more desperately to his panacea, and fancies that it must work,
if only applied on a larger scale.
"The Anti-Socialist Law, though it could not break and never
will break our organization, does impose pecuniary sacrifices almost
impossible to bear. To support the families ruined by the police, to
keep alive the few papers left to us. to keep up the necessary com-
munications by secret messengers, to fight the battle on the whole
line — all this requires money. We are nearly exhausted and forced
to appeal to our friends and sympathizers in other countries."
Assuring Swinton that "we here in London, Paris, etc., will
do our best," Marx called upon the American for assistance. "I be-
lieve that a man of your influence," he wrote, "might organize a sub-
scription in the United States." He added that, "Even if the monetary
result were not important, denunciations of Bismarck's new coup d * e ta t
in public meetings held by you, reported in the American press.
reproduced on the other side of the Atlantic, would sorely hit the
Pomeranian hiobereau [country squire] and be welcomed by all the Social
ists of Europe." Marx suggested that Swinton get in touch with F. A.
Sorge, the general secretary of the First International, who lived at
that time in Hoboken, New Jersey, for further details.
In the same letter — recalling the time they met in England
— Marx wrote: "My youngest daughter [Eleanor] who was not at
Ramsgate — tells me she has cut my portrait from the copy of Capit a l
I sent you, on the pretext that it was a mere caricature. Well, I
shall make up for it by a photogram to be taken on the first fine day.
"Mrs. Marx and the whole family send you their best wishes.
A second letter dated June 2, 1881 (also written in English)
was brought by a refugee from tsarist persecution, Leo Hartmann, whom
Marx recommended to Swinton' s attention.
"I send you through him a ph tograph of mine; it is rather
bad, but the only one left to me," Marx wrote. Commenting on Henry
George's Progress and Poverty , he observed: "I consider it as a last
attempt to save the capitalistic regime. Of course, this is not the
meaning of the author, but the older disciples of Ricardo — the
radical ones — fancied already that by the public appropriation of
the rent of land everything would be righted. I have referred to this
doctrine in the Misere de la Philosophie [The Poverty of Philosophy,
published in 1847] against Proudhon.
"Mrs. Marx sends you her best compliments. Unfortunately,
her illness assumes more and more a fatal character."
In a letter to Sorge dated November 5, 1880, Marx wrote that
as a result of Bismarck s new sta te — of— siege decrees and the persecu-
tion of our party organs, it is absolutely necessary to raise money for
the party. I have therefore written to John Swinton (for a well-meaning
bourgeois is best suited for this purpose), and told him to apply to
you for detailed information regarding German conditions."'
Swinton s role in organizing the movement against Bismarck's
anti-Social is t law in the United States is illuminated in a recent
article by Philip S. Foner in the International Review of Social History .
Referring to Marx's letter for financial assistance, Foner
There is no evidence either that Swinton ever re-
plied to Marx, or that he and Sorge ever contacted
each other. But Sorge did inform Marx that he had
learned that Swinton had revealed that he had re-
ceived a letter from Marx, but had said he could
do nothing in the matter other than contribute
about $100 personally to the cause... Actually,
while Marx did not mention it, Bismarck’s anti-
Socialist policy had, from its very inception,
aroused considerable indignation in this country
from Socialists, non-Socialist workers, and liber-
al intellectuals. It took the form of protest
meetings and the raising of funds for the relief
of the victims of Bismarckism. Swinton, himself,
was a leading figure in these protests.
As an example of this activity, Foner cites a meeting held in
Chickering Hall, in New York City, where Swinton not only presided, but
delivered the mein address. After the management had agreed to rent its
facilities, Swinton observed, that Socialists "had been routed out of
First Avenue, clubbed out of Tompkins Square, and subjected to the most
infamous outrages in the Democratic regions of the East Side, and now
they propose to establish their headquarters in the avenue of the
Shortly after Marx's death' a memorial meeting was held in
Cooper Union, New York, on March 20, 1883, where all nationalities
were represented, both on the platform and in the audience, and
speeches were made in several languages.
According to Foner, the meeting was the "outstanding memorial
event held anywhere in the world in the weeks immediately following
Marx's death." Because of his celebrated interview with Marx, and the
correspondence that followed, it was most appropriate that Swinton be
one of the speakers at the memorial meeting.
The Wpw York Sun of March 21, 1883, headlined the event:
“Tributes to Karl Marx"— "A Great International Memorial Meeting of
Workingmen"— "Thousands Turned Away from the Doors of Cooper Union
"Addresses in English, German, Russian, Bohemian and French." The news-
paper reported that "if the great hall of Cooper Union had been twice
as large as it is, it could not have held the vast throng of workingmen
who gathered last evening to do honor to the memory of Dr. Karl Marx.
Introduced to loud applause, John Swinton opened his speech
with these worlds: "It is to make requiem for Karl Marx, who has just
left the world, that we are here tonight." Referring to his interview
with Marx three years earlier, Swinton declared that the author of
Capital was "an observer of American action, and his remarks upon some
of the formative and substantive forces of American life were full of
suggestiveness." Swinton summed up his estimate of Marx:
First — Karl Marx was a man of lofty mind, true
.- 19 -
and free, equipped with all the knowledge of the
Secondly — It was by his moral nature, his generous
and radiant qualities, his faith in right and love
of man, that his mind was controlled.
Thirdly -- Karl Marx did extraordinary work in the
world, and when the history of the last forty years
is revealed, and the movements of which he was a
promoter, and which are now in progress throughout
Europe are brought to their consummation, the depth
and scope of his work will be known.
Fourthly — Karl Marx proclaimed fruitful ideas to
mankind -- the comprehensive ideas of unity and
self-help incarnated in the International Associa-
tion that have become watchwords of the world's
workers; the creative ideas upon political economy,
social forces, industrial cooperation and public
law that are found in his Capital . and the other
great underlying ideas of the Revolution whose
star will soon appear over Europe.
Fifthly — Karl Marx gave up his whole life for
the disinherited, neglecting the personal ends he
might have subserved and the prizes he might have
won, rendering himself liable to the hostility of
power, by which he was made an outlaw.
Finally, in giving all to mankind, Karl Marx gave
that which was more than aught else when he gave
Convinced that the true story of labor did not reach working
people, Swinton in the mid-Eighties launched his own weekly, John
Swin ton’s Paper . A statement of principles set forth its objectives:
1. Boldly upholding the rights of Man in the Amer-
2. Battling against the Accumulated Wrongs of So-
ciety and Industry.
the Organization and Interests of
and giving the news of the Trades
4. Uniting the Political Forces, searching for a
common platform, and giving the news of all
the Young Bodies in the field.
5. Warning the American people against the trea-
sonable and crushing schemes of Millionaires,
Monopolists and Plutocrats, and against the
coming Billionaire whose shadow is now loom-
6. Looking toward better times of fair play and
Typical headlines: "Millionaire Dodgers — Must Be Forced to
Pay Their Share of Taxes; Put an End to the Swindling and Perjury of
the Giants Who Devour Us; The Working Woman: 100,000 of Them Strug-
gling Through Life in This City."
A headline in the issue of February 2, 1885, strikes a con-
temporary note: "England and Ireland: Scope of the New Struggle Against
Editorials were pithy. News dispatches were brisk. There
were also advertisements, but not from Big Business. Most were from
booksellers and other small tradesmen.
Regular departments included "Trade Unions in the City" and
"Meetings of the Unions." One issue carried a story by a staff writer
titled "Two Nights in Poe's Room in Fordham, " a genial essay on William
Dean Howells, and a list of recommended books and magazines. Another
issue contained a number of poems and a sketch by Emile Zola.
’A . , ■ » ■ ,
The August 31, 1884, issue of the paper announced that "we
- 21 -
have made arrangements with Mrs. Eleanor Marx Aveling, the daughter of
the late Karl Marx, for a series of letters from London. We shall next
week give the first of them, which has just come to hand, and which
contains some interesting news about the books left by her distinguished
father, now under preparation for the publisher in London."
And, indeed, the following issue of John Swinton's Paper
(September 7, 1884) featured a full column of correspondence from
Eleanor Aveling Marx. Lt was headlined "Karl Marx’s Daughter — The
Second Volume of Her Father's Great Work Left Complete — His Life-
Long Toil." From London, Eleanor Marx wrote:
Not only Socialists, but all students of political
economy, are looking forward with interest and im-
patience to the publication in English of Karl
Marx's Das Kapital . A translation is now in pro-
gress of which, at some future date, I shall be
glad to give full details. At present I can only
say that the work is in able and loving hands and
that it probably will appear in two volumes'by
next Spring. . . .
The two greatest thinkers of the age — Charles
Darwin and Karl Marx — who had so many qualities
in common — were both special examples of the
capacity of genius for taking infinite pains.
Both of these men will be remembered for their
germinal discoveries that revolutionized natural
science and the science of political economy —
the one leading the quiet life of the scientific
discoverer, the other the stormy life of the re-
volutionist, but both always true to themselves
and to their work.
I like to remember — I do not think it has ever
before been noted — that The Origin of Species
and the Kritik der Politischen Economie (that con-
tains the germs of the theories more fully devel-
oped in Das Kapital ) , were both given to the world
- 22 -
Five weeks later (October 12, 1884) Swinton published another
dispatch from Eleanor Marx. The item was headlined "Marx's Daughter -
Half a Million Men Idle in England; As Many Half- Idle." In her report,
date lined London, she wrote: "Besides some half million laborers en-
tirely out of work (in England alone), at least 500,000 men are on
half time, and those who know what starvation wages of ’full time' mean,
will readily understand that we are face to face with an immense crisis.
Articles and editorials in John Swinton' s Paper denounced
low wages, discriminatory pay for women workers, the high cost of
living, injunction-granting judges, and members of Congress who op-
posed a bill calling for the establishment of a bureau of labor stan-
dards. A special Washington correspondent wrote a story headlined:
"Bulwark of Capital — The Millionaires Who Rule the Senate Living
Sketches of Dried Specimens."
Dispatches from industrial centers described the bitter lot
of labor" in the mills and mines. And the editor demanded: If Vil-
lard cannot afford the wages paid to his hands on the Northern Pacific
Railroad, how can he afford to go on with the building of his million-
dollar palace in this city? If Cyrus W. Field cannot afford to /
pay his janitors more than $4 a week, how can he afford to feast all
the British aristocracy?"
John Swinton 's Paper gave considerable attention to the
conditions of women and children. There were not only editorials and
special correspondence, but letters from workers direct from the shops.
In the issue of March 8, 1885, a story was headlined, "Little
Mill Slaves — New Child Labor Bill in the New York State Legislature
— Steps Proposed to Modify the Satanic System Under Which Thousands
of Children Are Murdered Every Year." Swinton's Albany correspondent
reported that the measure would apply to places "where machinery pro-
pelled by steam, water or other mechanical power is used. " Section 1
of the proposed bill stipulated that no one under 21 "shall be employed
for more than ten hours a day."
Under a headline, "A Woman and Her Sisters," a garment worker
told about "a certain suit company on 14th Street" (in New York City).
Previous to June," she reported, "the girls had received from 90 cents
to $1.50 for an entire suit, and 65 cents for ladies' wrappers. The
workers are often asked, 'Why don't you refuse such prices?' Because
they tthe employers] would only say to us: 'Go! if you are not satis-
An account from another worker: "The shop in which I work
employs sometimes as many as 100 girls, but as 'business is dull, '
just now we have no more than 30 at work. Our employer and her sister
treat us like dogs .... 'What do you mean by such work as this. Miss ?'
We have all countries represented: about half the girls are Germans;
about a quarter Irish or Irish-American, and the rest are 'Ninth War-
ders, ' that means Americans."
In an editorial (November 1, 1885), Swinton praised the New
York Central Labor Union for bringing before the public "some of the
more grievous wrongs of the women — mostly young women." The edi-
torial went on to say that "it is noble work that has been undertaken
by the Central Labor Union of this city for protecting the working
women of the various trades against the countless wrongs to which they
are subject under our cruel industrial system."
A page 1 dispatch from Pittsburgh on September 14, 1884, was
headlined "Brave Women of the Mines." It described a meeting of miners'
wives and their resolve to "stand by their husbands" who had been jailed
for strike activities.
Swinton's concern for working women is also attested to in
Foner's History of American Labor , which describes a testimonial
dinner meeting arranged for three women pickets from Yonkers who had
been arrested. The entire labor movement of New York City had joined
in this tribute, and John Swinton "had been designated to present them
with medals in honor of their militancy and courage."
A direct question on the right of women was put to Swinton
by a reader from Columbus, Ohio, in the issue of November 4, 1886.
Addressing her letter "To the Editor," she wrote: "In my wishes of
good speed for your success in establishing 'the rights of man in the
American way ' [the first point in the statement of principles of John
Swinton's Paper] , I with others wish to know if women are to be placed
upon your platform with equal rights and privileges, and to have fair
play in the better time that your faithful labor must bring." '
Swinton replied: "Most assuredly. When we speak of the
rights of men, those of women are implied every time, truly and fully
— her right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness .... In the
great productive industries into which millions of women are now being
- 25 -
driven, the Knights of Labor are steadily striving to secure the en-
forcement of the following great principle of their platform: ’To se-
cure for both sexes equal pay for equal work. ' This is not a mere emp-
ty demand, such as might be put out by double-faced politicians: it
is meant to take practical shape.
Women are not only invited to membership in the Knights of
Labor, but they are eligible to all offices of the Order.
"Fair play for woman every time!"
Swinton s sensitivity to the problems of the Black workman
of his time is revealed in an editorial November 28, 1886, which he
titled A Mistake of Colored Men." A correspondent in Missouri, he
wrote, had told of miners who were "supplanted by colored men, " as
strikebreakers. Commenting on this incident, Swinton wrote that im-
poverished Negroes "were transferred from the South by the corporation,"
and compared it to the contract system of imported labor.
Swinton added: "It is hard to find fault with the poor
colored men for the part they have taken in these inroads; but for the
capitalists who have brought them to the North, there should be nothing
short of positive public condemnation. In the country districts of
the South, the Negro laborers are held in a condition akin to slavery.
They are paid so little wages, receive so little cash after their fifty
or seventy-five cents a day suffers from the 'pluck me' system [com-
pany stores] , that they are easily lured to the North at wages dis-
gustingly inadequate for white workingmen. The imposition on the
Negroes is systematically carried out . " vSwinton concluded -.his-. editorial
- 26 -
by denouncing the system of convict labor in the South, where Negroes
are sentenced to "10 and 20 years for petty crimes" for which whites
would not even be charged.
Swinton, unfortunately, did not display the same keen sym-
pathies on the issue of Chinese immigration. His views on the subject
were first presented in the New York Tribune of June 30, 1870. What
precipitated this article was the importation in that year of Chinese
to work in a shoe factory in North Adams, Massachusetts. This action
was viewed as a threat to unionism and to the movement for the eight-
According to Dr. Marc Ross, who has made a perceptive study
of the subject, Swinton' s opposition to the importation of Chinese
laborers "seems to have been impelled more by desire to protect
American civilization from the intrusion of an alien and unassimilable
population than by the implications of their importation for the con-
ditions of labor of American workers."
"There is reason to dread the infusion and transfusion of
the Chinese, Mongolian or Yellow race with the white American race,"
Swinton had written in The New Issue; The Chinese-American Question ,
first published in 1870. And in his own paper he had proclaimed:
"The Chinese must go; no more mongoliza tion in our country."
Although Swinton argued that an influx of Chinese laborers
would depress the wages of native workingmen, his language was un-
deniable racist; in this he failed to rise above his times and above
the makers of American policy, who had first denigrated the common
humanity of the enslaved Blacks, then the freed "people of color."
On August 7, 1887, there appeared this announcement in
Swinton' s publication: "For almost four years, at a heavy expense to
myself, for every week of each year, I have edited and published John
Swinton' s Paper . My means are no longer sufficient to bear any further
strain I have sunk tens of thousands of dollars — all of it out
of my own pocket. In the final number, a fortnight hence, I shall
give a review of the past and present for the information of all ;.C
friends — to whom I shall then bid Farewell!"
Unexpired subscriptions would be credited to another paper,
Swinton explained, and any sums due advertisers who had paid in advance
would be sent back at once.
The final issue of John Swinton 's Paper , on August 21, 1887,
carried this valedictory:
To my many faithful friends and sturdy fellow
workers all over this broad land, who have stood
by me in this paper, aiding the work it was found-
ed to promote, or cherishing the principles which
it has steadily proclaimed I now bid FAREWELL.
Two years earlier Swinton had indicated some of the hardships
he had faced as a labor editor when he said that "there are American
wage workers, descended from Revolutionary sires, who dare not take
this paper for fear of the employers. Several men think it is safer
to get the paper in post-offices distant from their homes. To be
caught with it in some of the slave mills of New England would cost a
man as much as his wages are worth."
One day someone who asked Swinton if he made money on his
paper got this reply: "Did you ever hear of Washington, or Luther,
or Garrison, making money by their work? No, sir; only mercenaries
live to make money."
Nevertheless, he had to have cash to operate. After his
paper had been in existence for 16 months, he made a special appeal to
his readers. Evidently they responded, for Swinton continued publica-
tion. The paper published for two more years with the help of its
readers, but finally it had to surrender. Swinton had put $40,000 of
his personal savings into the venture. Professor Selig Perlman, labor
historian at the University of Wisconsin, called John Swinton 's Paper
"the best labor paper printed in the country's history."
Eugene V. Debs concurred. Describing the publication as "a
paper of remarkable ability and force," Debs wrote that "it had to
succumb at last." It was "a menace to Wall Street and the monied
interests, and they finally succeeded in forcing it to the wall."
* * * * *
On the basis of his experience as a journalist, Swinton had
harsh words for the newspaper business. • ..
"Journalism, once a profession, and then a trade, 1 - is now a
crime," he once observed. Upton Sinclair, in his famous Cry for
- 29 -
Jus tice j_ Aji„ Anthology of Social Protest (1915), described Swinton as
"one of American’s boldest and most beloved journalists," and reported
that Swinton, tendered a banquet by his fellow editors, startled them
by this response to a "toast" to "the independent" press: "There is
no such thing in America as an 'independent' press, unless it is in
the country towns. There's not one of you who would dare write his
honest opinions, and if you did you know beforehand that it would never
appear in print."
In recalling Swinton's comments, Sinclair wrote: "I speak,
not in my own voice, but in that of an old-time journalist, venerated
in his day, John Swinton."
At least one American student of Swinton has expressed skep-
ticism about the authenticity of the quotation. Dr. Marc Ross cites
an "investigation" as reported in the April, 1960, Bulletin of the
American Society of Newspaper Editors .
The Bulletin quoted Chester M. Lewis, director of archives
of the New York Times , as stating that he had been unable to locate
the original source of the remarks*
In response to a query from Lewis, Sinclair had declared:
"That Swinton quote haunted me for forty years. It was a sort of
classic in the Socialist movement, I had seen it often and took it
for granted....'' (Emphasis added — S.G.) Sinclair added that he
would not use the quotation in future editions, according to Lewis.
Not only had Sinclair used the Swinton quote in his Cry for
Justice . (1915) , but he included it in his famous expose of the
- 30 -
American press. The Brass Check (1920), and in successive editions.
* * * it *
A featured speaker at the 1892 convention of the American
Federation of Labor in Philadelphia, Swinton spoke of the "battalions
that fought this year at Homestead, Buffalo and Coeur d'Alene." He
urged the delegates to find some way of "unifying the industrial and
productive elements of the country for the defense against dangers
that are all too obvious," asking urgently: "Can we not agree upon
some one thing while differing upon other things?" He suggested that
"it is time for the struggling working people of the eastern states to
link arms with the advancing farmers of the resurgent west."
At workers' gatherings Swinton was generally among the speak-
ers on the platform. However, one night in the fall of 1894 he was in
the audience at Cooper Union, in New York, when Eugene V. Debs, who
had gained fame as a result of the Pullman strike, was the principal
Thirty- four years earlier, Swinton had listened to another
gaunt man from the West speaking from the same platform. He was moved
to make the observation that "Debs in Cooper Union reminded me of
Lincoln there. As Lincoln, of Illinois, became an efficient agent for
freedom, so, perchance, might Debs of Indiana become in the impending
conflict for the liberation of labor."
Debs was to write in 1918 that Swinton, "who might have had
unlimited wealth and power and 'fame, ' died in poverty and almost in
obscurity, because he was truly great and uncompromisingly honest,
- 31 -
scorning to barter his principles and convictions for... a life-lease
of pampered self-indulgence to soften his brain, .eat out his heart,
and putrefy his soul."
Swinton had been a staunch supporter of the Pullman strike
of 1894, which Debs had led and for which he was imprisoned. Four
years later they became acquainted. The respect and affection that
existed between them was to be profound. Swinton's speeches, said
Debs, were "scholarly in thought, classical in composition, and con-
tain some of the most thrilling passages to be found in American
John Swinton, like his friend Wendell Phillips, he said,
understood the labor question in its deeper significance and wider
aspects; he had a clear grasp of its fundamental principles and its
international scope and character, and he knew that the labor movement
was revolutionary and that its mission of emancipating the working
class from wage slavery could be accomplished only by destroying the
system and reorganizing society upon a new economic foundation....
Both Marx and Swinton are gone, but their work remains and the heroic,
unselfish examples they set will be a perpetual inspiration to the
Describing the many warm letters he had received from Swinton,
Debs said that they were "filled with kindnesses, with loyalty and
greetings and good cheer." In the midst of the Pullman strike, when
Debs was facing prison, Swinton had written: "You are waging a Napole-
onic battle amid t the admiration of millions. Be strong. Brother Debs!"
- 32 -
In a later letter (June 30, 1897), Swinton wrote Debs that
"the strength of your faith, the liveliness of your hopes, the persis-
tency of your valor, the breadth of your thought, and the energy of
your genius fill me with admiration. These things belong to that kind
of Americanism which is ever regenerative." He received this letter.
Debs recounts, after Swinton learned that "the railroad managers had
sworn that the American Railway Union should not be organized and their
detectives were dogging my footsteps by day and night."
When he visited New York, Debs recalled, "the little chats
we had together were occasions of special enjoyment and delight to me.
He (Swinton] had the reputation of being somewhat brusque in manner,
but I never found him so. On the contrary, he was always genial as
sunshine to me. At his home he was the very soul of hospitality. He
lived modestly with his wife, whom he addressed as 'angel' and in whom
he had a most sympathetic and helpful companion in all his arduous
labors and disappointing experiences."
Like many radicals of the time, Debs was immensely impressed
with Swinton's interview with Karl Marx. "He visited Karl Marx," Debs
wrote, "and it may readily be imagined that these two great revolu-
tionary souls found genial companionship in each other."
Swinton and Marx saw "struggle" ahead, Debs wrote, referring
to the famous Ramsgate interview. Writing during World War I, the
Socialist leader declared that "the years which have followed have
amply vindicated their prescience. Struggle there has been over all
the face of the earth, increasing steadily in violence and intensity
until today the whole of humanity seems seized with a madness for
bloodshed and destruction that threatens an upheaval wide as the world
and unparalleled in world's history."
A Debs-like spirit animates Swinton’s Striking for Life:
Labor , s . Side of the Labor Question. In this stirring volume, Swinton
wrote that it is most certainly an unsatisfactory and unpromising
outlook under the existing state of things It must be possible for
the American people to make up their mind that these mighty agencies —
new forces and new appliances of inventive skill — shall be used for
public advantage rather than for private enrichment; for the welfare
of the community, rather than for its impoverishment."
•’ £' *****
An equally good friend had been Walt Whitman. And the bond
between Swinton and the poet became even closer when together they
visited the Civil War wounded. Swinton recalled:
...I saw him [Whitman] time and again, in the Wash-
ington hospitals, or wending his way there with
basket or haversack on his arm, and the strength
of beneficence suffusing his face. His devotion
surpassed the devotion of woman. It would take a
volume to tell of his kindness, tenderness, and
Never shall I forget one night when I accompanied
him on his rounds through a hospital, filled with
those wounded young Americans whose heroism he has
sung in deathless numbers. There were three rows
of cots, and each cot bore its man. When he ap-
peared, in passing along, there was a smile of
affection „ and welcome on every face, however wan,
and his presence seemed to light up the place as
it might be lit by the presence of the Son of Love.
From cot to cot they called him often in tremulous
tones or in whispers; they embraced him, they
touched his hand, they gazed at him* To one he
gave a few words of cheer, for another he wrote a
letter home, to others he gave an orange, a few
comfits, a cigar, a pipe and tobacco, a sheet of
paper or a postage stamp, all of which and many
other things were in his capacious haversack.
From another he would receive a dying message for
mother, wife, or sweetheart; for another he would
promise to go an errand; to another, some special
friend, very low, he would give a manly farewell
kiss. He did the things for them which no nurse
or doctor could do, and he seemed to leave a bene-
diction at every cot as he passed along. The
lights had gleamed for hours in the hospital that,
night before he left it, and as he took his way
towards the door, you could hear the voice of many
a stricken hero calling, "Walt, Walt, Walt, come
again I come againl"
His basket and stores, filled with all sorts of
odds and ends for the men, had been emptied. He
had really little to give, but it seemed to me as
though he gave more than other men.
* * * * *
In a letter to Whitman Swinton had expressed his enthusiasm
for Leaves of Grass . "My dear and great Walt," he wrote, "I want to
see you that I may get another copy of the Leaves and subscribe an X
for expense of publication. I am profoundly impressed with the great
humanity, or genius, that expressed itself through you.... I could con-
vey no idea to you how it affects roy soul. It is more to me than
all other books and poetry."
A passionate admirer of Whitman's writings, Swinton helped
to bring his books to the attention of the public. On October 1, 1868,
for example, the following item appeared in the "Minor Topics" column
which Swinton conducted in the New York Times :
"With the bright crispy Autumn weather Walt Whitman again
makes his appearance on the sidewalks of Broadway. His large, massive
personality his grave and prophetic, yet free and manly appearance
— — his insoucience of manner and movement — — his easy and negligent,
yet clean and wholesome dress — to make up a figure of an individual-
ity that attracts the attention of every passer-by."
The article then informed readers of the growth of Whitman's
reputation abroad. "Rossetti has classed him with Homer and one or
two other great poetic geniuses of the world." Moreover, the famous
German poet Freiligrath [friend of Karl Marx] was planning to trans-
late Leaves of Grass . The item concluded with the announcement of the
forthcoming publication of "a small work in prose," Democratic Vistas .
Swinton did not confine himself to publicizing Whitman's
writings; he helped promote them in a most practical way, sending him
printed forms for potential purchasers of books, editions of which were
sold by the poet by subscription for some twenty years.
In a note "to various friends," Whitman wrote that "in a
letter from my friend John Swinton, he speaks of your kind desire to
subscribe for some copies.... I send you enclosed slips. Of course I
should be happy to furnish you with any copies. I am still jogging
along here in the two-thirds ill, one-third well condition of these
Swinton often expressed the view that labor's progress was
slow. Whitman’s close friend, Horace Traubel, in his With Walt Whitman
in Camden , recorded that "Swinton sometimes seems to get in the dumps
awful... is down in the mouth about the tardiness of the people to
respond to the appeal of the economic radicals." And Traubel commented,
"The people will come along in their own time — yes, and take their
time . "
Chatting with Whitman one day in April, 1888, Horace Traubel
mentioned Swinton. "John, you know," Walt said, "is stormy, tempestuous
-- raises a hell of a row over things -- yet underneath all is nothing
that is not noble, sweet, sane." These remarks were prompted by the
turning up of a letter Swinton had written him about four years earlier,
described by Whitman as "almost like a love letter," but not unusual
in the fervid rhetoric of the day.
Swinton had written:
Mv beloved Walt — I have read the sublime poem of
the Universal once and again, and yet again — see-
ing it in the Graphic . Post , Mail , World , and many
other papers. It is^ sublime. It raised my mind
to its own sublimity. It seems to me the sublimest
of all your poems. I cannot help reading it every
once of a while. I return to it as a fountain of
My beloved Walt. You know how I have worshipped
you, without change or cessation, for twenty years.
While my soul exists, that worship must be ever
It was perhaps the very day of the publication of
the first edition of the Leaves of Grass that I
saw a copy of it at a newspaper stand in Fulton
Street, Brooklyn. I got it, looked into it with
wonder, and felt that here was some ting that
touched the depths of my humanity. Since then you
have grown before me, grown around me, and grown
I expected certainly to go down to Camden last fall
to see you. But something prevented. And, in time
I saw xn the papers that you had recovered. The
New Year took me into a new field of action among
the miserables . Oh, what scenes of human horror
were to be found in this city last winter. I can-
not tell you how much I was engaged, or all I did
for three months. I must wait till I see you to
tell you about these things. I have been going to-
ward social radicalism of late years... Now I would
like to see you, in order to temper my heart, and
expand my narrowness.
How absurd it is to suppose that there is any ail-
ment in the brain of a man who can generate the
poem of the Universal. I would parody Lincoln and
say that such kind of ailment ought to spread.
My beloved Walt. Tell me if you would like me to
come to see you, and perhaps I can do so within a
few weeks .
Traubel reports: "I quoted W. that phrase from Swinton' s
letter, 'I have been going toward social radicalism of late years.'
Yes, said W., "I remember it. Are we not all going that way or al-
It was Swinton who first brought Leaves of Grass to the attention
of Russian readers via the circuitous route of a lecture on American
literature to a German society in New York City, and later before the
Philosophical Society of Williamsburg, in Brooklyn. A translation of
the lecture later appeared in Zagranichny Vestnik (Foreign Herald),
Calling his attention to the article, Swinton wrote Whitman:
"Now I have the magazine and you have a very heavy puff in the organ
which is studied by all the powerful and intellectual classes of Russia.
Traubel reports that Whitman asked him to read the letter
aloud, and when he had finished the poet said: "That has a real sound
It seems to take me way off into a strange country, and set me down
there I'm as much for all countries as for one and I suppose I am
so that I should not feel like an alien even over in that great Tartar
Empire . "
* ★ * * *
Despite his intense admiration for Marx, Swinton was not a
scientific Socialist. His outlook was close to that of the utopian
Socialists of the time. His ardor was all for labor's cause, his jour
nalistic talents were dedicated to working people. His eyes had been
opened to some of the evils of American capitalist society; his pas-
sionate reaction to these evils made him a forerunner of the "muck-
rakers" of the next generation.
Viewing his life, work and development in their totality,
John Swinton merits greater recognition than has so far been accorded
him. He was an outstanding American who not only exposed and fought
the venality of the prevailing social system but saw the need and had
the hope for a far more humanistic social order.
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John Swint on 1 s Interview with Karl Marx
(August, 1880) *
One of the most remarkable men of the day, who has played
an inscrutable but puissant part in the revolutionary politics
of the past 40 years, is Karl Marx. A man without desire for
show or fame, caring nothing for the fanfaronade of life or
the pretense of power, without haste and without rest, a man
strong, broad, elevated mind, full of far-reaching pro-
jects, logical methods and practical aims, he has stood and
yet stands behind more of the earthquakes which have con-
vulsed nations and destroyed thrones, and do now menace and
appall crowned heads and established frauds, than any other
man in Europe, not excepting Joseph Mazzini himself.
The student of Berlin, the critic of Hegelianism, the
editor of papers and the old-time correspondent of the New
York Tribune , he showed his qualities and his spirit; the
founder and master spirit of the once dreaded International,
and the author of Capita 1 , he has been expelled from half the
countries of Europe, proscribed in nearly all of them, and
for 30 years past has found refuge in London. He was at
Ramsgate, the great seashore resort of the Londoners, while
I was in London, and there I found him in his cottage, with
his family of two generations. The saintly-faced, sweet-
voiced, graceful woman of suavity, who welcomed me at the
door, was evidently the mistress of the house and the wife
of Karl Marx. And is this massive-headed, generous featur-
ed, courtly., kindly man of 60, with the bushy masses of
long, revelling gray hair y Karl Marx?
His dialogue reminded me of that of Socrates — so free,
so sweeping, so creative, so incisive, so genuine — with
its sardonic touches, its gleams of humor, and its sportive
merriment. He spoke of the political forces and popular
movements of the various countries of Europe -- the vast
current of the spirit of Russia, the motions of the German
mind, the action of France, the immobility of England. He
spoke hopefully of Russia, philosophically of Germany,
cheerfully of France, and somberly of England — referring
* New York Sun , September 6, 1880; reprinted in John Swinton' s
Travels: Current Views and Notes of Forty Days in France &
contemptuously to the "atomistic reforms" over which the
Liberals of the British Parliament spend their time. Sur-
veying the European world, country after country, indicating
the features and the developments and the personages of the
surface and under the surface, he showed that things were
working toward ends which will assuredly be realized. I was
often surprised as he spoke. It was evident that this man,
of whom so little is seen or heard, is deep in the times,*
and that, from the Neva to the Seine, from the Urals to the
Pyrenees, his hand is at work preparing the way for the new
advent. Nor is his work wasted now any more than it has been
in the past, during which so many desirable changes have been
brought about, so many heroic struggles have been seen, and
the French Republic has been set up on the heights.
As he spoke, the question I had put, "Why are you doing
nothing now? 1 ' was seen to be a question of the unlearned,
and one to which he could not make direct answer . Inquiring
why his great work. Capital , the seed field of so many crops,
had not been put into Russian and French from the original
German, he seemed unable to tell, but said that a proposition
for an English translation had come to him from New York.
He said that that book was but a fragment, a single part of
a work in three parts, two of the parts being yet unpublish-
ed, the full trilogy being "Land," "Capital," "Credit," the
last part, he said, being largely illustrated from the United
States, where credit has had such an amazing development.
Mr. Marx is an observer of American action, and his remarks
upon some of the formative and substantive forces of Ameri-
can life were full of suggestiveness. By the way, in re-
ferring to his Capital , he said that anyone who might want
to read it would find the French translation superior in
many ways to the German original. Mr. Marx referred to Henri
Rochefort, the Frenchman, and in his talk of some of his
dead disciples, the stormy Bakunin, the brilliant Lassalle
and others, I could see how deeply his genius had taken hold
of men who, under the circumstances, might have directed the
course of history.
The afternoon is waning toward the long twilight of an
English summer evening as Mr. Marx discourses, and he pro-
poses a walk through the seaside town and along the shore to
the beach, upon which we see many thousand people, largely
children disporting themselves. Here we find on the sands
his family party — the wife, who had already welcomed me,
his two daughters with their children, and his two sons-in-
law, one of whom is professor in Kings College, London, and
the other, I believe, a man of letters. It was a delightful
party — about ten in all — the father of the two young
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wives, who were happy with their children, and the grandmother
of the children, rich in the joysomeness and serenity of her
wifely nature. Not less finely than Victor Hugo himself does
arl Marx understand the art of being a grandfather; tut more
fortunate than Hugo, the married children of Marx live to
make jocund his years.
Toward nightfall, he and his sons-in-law part from their
families to pass an hour with their American guest. And the
talk was of the world, and of man, and of time, and of ideas,
as our glasses tinkled over the sea. The railway train
waits for no man, and night is at hand. Over the thought of
the babblement and rack of the age and the ages, over the
talk of the day and the scenes of the evening, arose in my
mind one question touching upon the final law of being, for
which I would seek answer from this sage. Going down to the
depths of language and rising to the height of emphasis, dur-
ing an interspace of silence, I interrupted the revolutionist
and philosopher in these fateful words: "What is?"
And it seemed as though his mind were inverted for a
moment while he looked upon the roaring sea in front and
the restless multitude upon the beach. "What is?" I had
inquired, to which, in deep and solemn tone, he replied:
"Struggle!" At first it seemed as though I had heard the
echo of despair: but peradventure it was the law of life.
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Karl Marx's Comments on the Translating of "Das Kapital" *
by John Swinton
There is a rumpus among the disciples of Karl Marx in
London about the translating from German into English of his
masterpiece, "Capital." It has just been translated by John
Broadhouse, and is now being published piecemeal, in the
London magazine. The Day . But Frederick Engels, one of Mr.
Marx's literary executors, has fired a broadside into Broad-
house's translation. He shows that Broadhouse has an im-
perfect knowledge of German, with a feeble command of English,
and that he is wholly unfitted to translate this most un-
translatable of German prose writers.
This squabble recalls to my mind the remarks made to me
about the translation of Capita 1 by Karl Marx himself, when
I spent an afternoon with him at the English town of Rams-
gate five yers ago. Asking him why it had not been put in
English, as it had been put in French and Russian, from the
original German, he replied that a proposition for an English
translation had come to him from New York, and then he went
on to make other remarks that ought to be of interest to
both Broadhouse and Engels. He said that his German text
was often obscure and that it would be found exceedingly
difficult to turn it into English. "But look at the
translation into French," he said as he presented me with a
copy of the Paris edition of "Le Capital." "That," he con-
tinued, "is far clearer, and the style better than the
German original. It is from this that the translation into
English ought to be made, and I wish you would say so to
any one in New York who may try to put the book into Eng-
lish. I really took great pain in revising this French
translation which was made by J. Roy; I went over every word
of the French manuscript and much of the language and many
of the passages so hard to turn from German into English can be
easily translated from the French version. When it is put
into English," he repeated, "let the French version be used."
These are the words of Karl Marx himself which are now
for the first time put in print.
♦From John Swinton 's Paper . November 29, 1885.
A few days ago in taking up the first chapter of Mr.
roadhouse's translation, my eye fell on a sentence so ob-
scure as to be unintelligible, but in turning to the French
version, the meaning of the sentence was plain.
It would seem as though Mr. Marx's literary executors
must have heard from his own lips what he said to me in
August of 1880.
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- 45 -
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"John Swinton, Journalist and Reformer: His Active
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& Company, 1906.
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Orator, and Economist. Chicago, 1902.
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The New York Sun , September 6, 1880, page 1.
The author is grateful for courtesies extended by the staff
of Tamiment Library (New York University) , which made avail-
able John Swinton* s Paper (1883-1887) on microfilm, as well
as other rare resource materials. I would also like to thank
my daughter, Emily, for her painstaking copy editing and
proofreading of the manuscript.
# # # # #
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